I’m not sure at what point I first decided that I liked art, or even if I decided. I think I started doing it naturally as a child, painting trees and family portraits that look more like potatoes. Every child creates paintings when they’re little that are cherished by adoring parents. But for me it became something serious, naturally.
My first favorite house we lived in was Worcester Boulevard, the main strip of the arts center in Christchurch. We lived directly across from the creative hub, and every weekend there were markets and crafty stalls. For me this meant getting 2 bucks to buy a packet of Russian fudge. But I would also sometimes have a stall of my own. I would bring out our teal coffee table and put it on the street next to our fence. I would string up paintings like a washing line and sell them for 20 cents each. And people bought them. Probably more than anything because they thought it was cute to see a seven year old kid selling her work. I wonder if any of those pictures survived and are hanging on strangers walls somewhere.
For me, that is such a high. I love when people look at my work. I love having people talk about what they think it means, or what it means to them. That my work might strike political debate and evoke feeling in others is such a treasure. It gives me meaning. It makes me feel like I have something to add to society, some kind of merit. I am always thinking about meaning and truth, and what is the point. Art is the only thing that gives me any kind of answer.
What started as a natural instinct, has become a motivation and way of life. I have always felt a push to keep making.
We lived in another favorite house of mine, Hatton St in Karori, Wellington. It was this beautiful architectural masterpiece. The whole front wall of the house was glass, looking out over layers of garden greenery and flowers. The house was avocado green, and wooden on the inside. Very seventy’s. I got to have the big rumpus bedroom downstairs, on its own ‘floor’. The room had a door leading to a tool shed-like outhouse. Full of dust and rusty tin and cobwebs. It became my first studio. There were shelves of old rolls of wallpaper, these became my medium to work with. You can still find several pieces in family members lounge rooms.
When I started High School I picked up art as a subject. I was ecstatic to be able to spend school time painting, and to get marked on it. Obviously at this stage, I thought I was pretty good, and would easily secure top marks. Ah the naive bliss. I was not the best in the class, not by a long shot. It was my first real insight into competition, and that there was a whole world of artists out there, who intended to make it as I did. I had work to do.
High School art taught me several things. It improved my technique, making me think about light, and proportion, and not to shade by smudging.
It opened up the world of movements, and periods in art to me. And highlighted different artists styles, and consequently made me question what mine was.
And it taught me that art is subjective, and will not necessarily be appreciated by everyone. Your teacher may not like your work, not because it is bad, but because they personally do not like it. This makes marking art a difficult task. It becomes based on technique to begin with, and on subject later on.
Looking back it was a transitioning period for me. Previously I had the passion, but now I was concentrating on mastering the skill, and pushing forward a more assertive point of view through my work.
There was also the artists I became introduced to through study. Artists that came to be very influential to my work, and important in my life.
Jacqueline Fraser made me think about media, and the notion that abstract is not necessarily something grotesque. Cindy Sherman showed me the power of using yourself in your work, not as a self portrait but as an active subject. Colin McCahon made me see something new in landscape, and demonstrated the beauty of simplicity and words.
But my favorite is Seraphine Pick. Her work has spurred me and amazed me since I was first aware of it.
Seraphine is a friend of mums, and at one point lived with us, in another favorite house, Maunsell Road, on the edge of the Domain in Auckland. It had this entrance room, carpeted in red floral, and this huge grande wooden staircase that ascended down into the middle. Out the back of the house there was a fish pond, and everything was covered in vines. I wasn’t so aware of Seraphine’s work then, I knew she was an artist, but back then I was a boy crazed prima-donna, so I didn’t take much notice.
She has an amazing gift of the brush, and can manipulate detail and emotion so seamlessly. I first fell in love with her dainty strainers and bedposts stacked so neatly. And then her wispy dark ghostly figures against a somber emptiness.
Mum commissioned Seraphine to do a painting of me and Liv each. I was beside myself that she was going to paint me. Immortalized by Pick. The paintings are beautiful. Liv is bold and striking, against a navy background, while mine is more whimsy, and has cheery colored flowers at the bottom.
She told mum later that she had to paint me twice: she couldn’t capture my expression.
Throughout University I continued to create, and I thought endlessly about putting on a show. I felt I would not be considered a professional artist until I had done a show, and I was so ready to become a part of the scene.
I created a photography based show, looking at heroines from fairy tales, and placing them into today’s world, humbling them, and showing them as dormant lackluster creatures. Waiting for a man to save them; not a strong role model for young women. The show was called Hopelessly Devoted, and it was good/entertaining/interesting enough. My friends and family loved it, or rather loved me. It felt wonderful, but did not bring me the instant success I anticipated. Ahh that old naivety, it hangs around.
I have come so far from that show. It was a warm up, a practice. I feel as though only now, that I am twenty eight, I have found my style, and rhythm and voice. Now I can create, and hopefully have an impact on today’s art world, slowly. But it’s tough out there, so much competition, a whole world of digital.
Having a new idea is hard. With so many millions of others to compete with, how can you know that someone else isn’t doing the same thing. There used to be a notion of shocking people. This doesn’t seem happen so much anymore.
I find it difficult to talk about my work. Somehow I just feel a little self conscious and silly. I think it is far more interesting to hear what other people think about it, without bombarding them with my own opinion. But I shall try.
My art is about myself. I find it hard sometimes to tell people what I think, I find I can do this much better through art. It is about my insecurities, my fears, my wishes. I attempt to show another side of myself, one that doesn’t always make sense, one that perhaps isn’t as likeable. Though my subject may sometimes be vulgar, I like it to appear visually pleasing and pretty. That’s my vanity coming out.
A lot of people see me in my work, literally. They ask if it is a self portrait, which I contemplate. I do not intend to put myself in my work, but often the figures resemble me. They say you write what you know, so maybe you paint what you want to know. I’m still trying to find myself, in my work and in life.
I made an incredible friend Bronwyn Coleman when I moved to Sydney. A friend that I was able to share that searching, questioning, darker side with, because she was going through it too. Talking about art with a good friend who loves it just as much as you do is wonderful. Here replace art with what ever it is that makes you feel excited and inspired to agree with me. Working with Bron pushed me to be more open.
We created a show together, Ornament & Offal, at the Danks st Depot in Sydney. My side looked at how thought and emotion can have an affect on the mind, and how you see yourself to be, while Bron’s side looked more literally inside the subject and explored the effect of feelings on the body.
I have not finished growing yet, but have years of transitioning ahead of me. I think I will be painting till I am grey and wrinkly.
A happy thought.
To take home your very own Stone you can buy prints of my work, just head to Society6, where a range of Sophie Stone images are available for purchase.